by Debbonnaire Kovacs

The book of Ruth is such a nice little love story.

Or is it?

Have you ever really considered what it might have been like to be Ruth?

First, she is a Moabite, presumably from a family which worships the national god of the Moabites, Chemosh, and his consort, Ashtar. As a young girl (likely a very young girl) with or without her will and consent, she is married to a young man from an immigrant family, living in Moab to escape a famine in their homeland of Judah. In this family, she learns of a God they call “the one true God,” or “God most high.” She learns that instead of being named “Destroyer” ( one meaning of Chemosh) and demanding human sacrifice, this God cares personally for his people and has actually given them a whole system of substitutionary sacrifice instead. Whether Elimelech’s family understood about the foreshadowing of the Messiah, we don’t know, but this new faith must have been an improvement for Ruth, based on the attitudes she will soon demonstrate.

Either Ruth does love her husband or at least she comes to love his family, especially his mother, Naomi. When tragedy strikes and all three men die—not, apparently, at the same time (see 1:3-5)—and Naomi decides to return to her homeland, Ruth passionately refuses to leave her. It seems to indicate, though of course we can’t know, that Naomi is more of a mother and family to her than she found at home. She specifically mentions, too, “Your God will be my God.”

So off they go to Bethlehem, and Ruth goes to work as a gleaner (a respectable form of welfare which, unlike begging, allows the gleaner to keep the self-respect of working for her own support and that of the senior citizen of the family).  She is very fortunate in the dog-eat-dog days of the judges to find an honest landowner who clearly sees his responsibility of sharing his bounty with those less fortunate. The story concentrates on Ruth, but it is obvious in the context that Boaz takes better care of all his workers, hired or not, than some of the local landowners do.

So far, so good.

Then Naomi announces, "My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." (3:1-4)

What would you do if you were Ruth? Well, if you were actually a young woman raised in this era and area, you would probably respond as Ruth did, no matter what your personal feelings: “All that you tell me, I will do.”

Now, I’ll admit it, I like to think Ruth had an eye for Boaz already. It does seem he had one for her. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem, on the face of it (though you never can tell these things with Bible stories) that it hasn’t been long at all since her husband died. Still, she may have felt she had little choice. She has shown already that she can speak her mind and cling to an idea if she feels it’s important enough, but two women alone in those times had a very hard time surviving. At any rate, the story seems to have a happy ending, and someday Ruth will learn that she became the mother of kings and eventually of the Sacrifice that ended all sacrifices.

What does all this mean to us? How can Ruth’s attitudes and actions inform and inspire our attitudes and actions when we seem to have trouble after trouble?